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International human rights laws: Modern trends

M S Siddiqui
07 Dec 2022 00:02:03 | Update: 07 Dec 2022 00:02:03
International human rights laws: Modern trends

Human rights are inherent entitlements which belong to every person because of being human. The notion of divine right of rule continued in many countries. Ruling elites aimed to maintain power and cultural practices subordinating women, children, racial minorities and workers. Slavery was widespread and torture was a prevalent method of investigation and punishment. Executions were held in public places and capital punishment was imposed for a wide variety of offenses. Educational opportunities were limited to the very rich, a few landholders dominated the numerous and landless poor. Some human rights abuses gave problems even to rulers because they led to long and impoverishing wars. In particular, religious persecution, forced conversions, and massacres of religious minorities provoked conflicts throughout the world.

Although human rights are in discussion for thousand years. Greek philosophy has developed the idea of natural law including equal respect for all citizens, equality before the law, equality in political power and suffrage, and equality of civil rights. Hsün-tzu, Chinese philosopher @ 400 B.C.: "In order to relieve anxiety and eradicate strife, nothing is as effective as the institution of corporate life based on a clear recognition of individual rights."

The sense of human rights came from religious belief and duty, others out of compassion or a sense of responsibility. All the major religions of the world seek in one way or another to speak to the issue of human responsibility to others. Generally, religion do not speak of rights, but instead address moral duties and responsibilities towards others. At the same time, the rationales underlying these duties -- equality, human dignity, and the sacredness of life -- provide a foundation for the concept of human rights. The Qur-an speaks to justice, the sanctity of life, freedom, mercy, compassion and respect for all human beings. All races are equal and religious toleration should be guaranteed. The first declaration of religious freedom in the world proclaimed that Jews and Christians shall be protected from all insults and vexations; they shall have an equal right and shall practice their religion as freely as the Muslims. Subsequently all the intellectual, cultural, and legal developments that have evolved and merged into the current international system for the protection of human rights.

The concept of internationally protected human rights in general did not appear until the twentieth century, specific human rights issues emerged and were matters of international concern as early as the seventeenth century.

International Human Rights Law (IHRL) is a set of international rules, established primarily by treaty or custom, based on which individuals and groups can expect and/or claim certain behavior or benefits from governments. IHRL lays down rules binding governments in their relations with individuals. IHRL law also designed to promote and protect human rights at the international, regional and domestic levels. Some other international human rights instruments, while not legally binding, contribute to the implementation, understanding, and development of international human rights law.

The Human Rights are a major part of international law e.g. declarations, treaties, Acts, regulations, rules which are incorporated by different nations as their municipal laws. We can say that Human Rights are Universal, absolute, interrelated and unbiased. Some of the sources of IHRL are the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), as well as Conventions on Genocide (1948), Racial Discrimination (1965), Discrimination Against Women (1979), Torture (1984) and Rights of the Child (1989). There are main regional instruments are the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950), the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (1948) and Convention on Human Rights (1969), and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (1981).

These human rights treaties but also refer to international humanitarian law, which in essence provides more specific human rights protections in time of war. It also includes not only formally binding treaties, but also customary international law, as evidenced in formal international declarations and diplomatic practice. Because international human rights treaties are adopted by governments, usually after prolonged and contested negotiations and followed in many countries by lengthy processes of ratification.

IHRL also contains provisions obliging states to implement its rules, whether immediately or progressively. They must adopt a variety of legislative, administrative, judicial and other measures that may be necessary to give effect to the rights provided for in the treaties. This may include enacting criminal legislation to outlaw and repress acts prohibited under IHRL treaties or providing for a remedy before domestic courts for violations of specific rights and ensuring that the remedy is effective.

The IHRL supervisory system consists of bodies established either by the United Nations Charter or by the main IHRL treaties. As regards international implementation, states have a collective responsibility under article 1 common to the Geneva Conventions to respect and to ensure respect for the Conventions in all circumstances. The supervisory system also comprises the Protecting Power mechanism, the enquiry procedure and the International Fact-Finding Commission envisaged in Article 90 of Protocol I. States parties to Protocol I also undertake to act in cooperation with the United Nations in situations of serious violations of Protocol I or of the Geneva Conventions.

Human rights in Bangladesh are enshrined as fundamental rights in Part III of the Constitution of Bangladesh. However, constitutional and legal experts believe many of the country's laws require reform to enforce fundamental rights and reflect democratic values of the 21st century. As stated in the constitution, (1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. (2) Women shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of the State and of public life. The National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh was reconstituted in 2009 as a national advocacy institution for human rights promotion and protection. The rights enumerated in Part III ensures that they cannot be taken away by the ordinary process of law making and that these rights are placed beyond the reach of executive and legislative authorities to act in violation of them (Art 26).

The IHRL is couched as law, it also lends itself to potential enforcement by international courts or agencies-a trend growing in practice. Some of the states have enacted law to ensure human rights. The British Parliament passed the Human Rights Act in 1998 to replace the Bill of Rights. The law guaranteed the proper balance of rights and responsibilities, individual liberty and the public interest, rigorous judicial interpretation, and respect for the authority of elected law-makers.

Slavery was a violation of human right and black chapter of mankind. In 1807, public opinion forced votes in the US Congress and British Parliament to end the participation of both countries in slave trading. The U.S. Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves was matched by the British Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Both made it illegal to trade in, purchase, sell, barter, or transport any human cargo for the purpose of slavery.

Unfortunately, neither law could be effective, however, without international measures of enforcement and the agreement of other nations. In 1840, the first World Anti-Slavery Conference was organized. Eventually governments responded. By 1882, a network of more than fifty bilateral agreements permitted the search of suspected slave ships on the high seas, without regard to flag.

The abuse of war prisoner was another black chapter of human rights. During the fourth century B.C., Chinese military theorist Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War that an obligation exists to care for the wounded and prisoners of war. The most part warfare was not governed by any mutually acceptable rules limiting the actions of soldiers. After a long time experience of wars, An organizing committee invited governments and the Geneva International Conference met in 1863 and they have created a Geneva-based private international organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross. They have subsequently the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field, the first international agreement to protect individuals in times of war in 1864.

By 1899 the Hague Peace Conference could conclude a broad Convention on the Laws and Customs of War on Land that explicitly spoke of the "rights" of the wounded to receive medical treatment, of prisoners of war to be given food and clothing and protection under the law, of individuals to be considered inviolable when surrendering, and of civilians to be protected from unlimited warfare. In 1907 the Hague Peace Conference extended humanitarian law by concluding new agreements on land and marine warfare.International travel has always been hazardous.

Throughout history, merchants, diplomats and others traveling abroad have been vulnerable to robbery, murder, enslavement, or impressment. Ships at sea were frequently looted by privateers or pirates. The loss of a national was and still is seen as the loss of a valuable asset belonging to the sovereign, whether prince or state. Those who caused harm to foreign nationals diminished the wealth of the sovereign to whom such nationals were deemed to belong.

Through the evaluation of the protests, reprisals, interventions, and other state practice the rule emerged that a state was responsible for acts committed against foreign nationals within its territory and by its nationals on the high seas. The ruler of the acting party and the state itself were deemed to be collectively responsible for the damage caused to the foreign citizen. The victim’s ruler could authorize the victim, his family, or commercial partners to use self-help against the other country and its citizens.

In 1948, for the first time, countries agreed on a comprehensive list of inalienable human rights. In December of that year, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a milestone that would profoundly influence the development of international human rights law. It claimed that Human Rights is an international concern and it can be interrelated as well as absolute. The document is not legally binding on the nations rather it can be effective with the adaption of these treaties in the national laws.

In December 1966, the UN General Assembly adopted two international treaties that would further shape international human rights: the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). These are often referred to as “the International Covenants.” Together, the UDHR and these two Covenants are known as the International Bill of Human Rights.

The British Magna Carta (1215), Petition of Right (1628) and Habeas Corpus Act (1679) and The French Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizens, 1789 although imposed by - and largely for – the nobility, the Magna Carta also contained more broadly applicable civil rights and established the rule of law: "no freeman shall be arrested, or detained in prison or deprived of his freehold . . . except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land."

Those were not adequate to be converted into policies because they did not include women and various oppressed groups. As a result, the United Nations Charter was implemented in 1945 to create accountability and give rights to the countries which were a part of it.

The turn of the century saw a wave of globalization with technological advances in Internet communication technology (ICT).  Approximately four in ten Americans have experienced some kind of harassment on the internet. According to the Cyber Crime Division of Dhaka, 80% of victims of online harassment are women among which the majority victims are aged between 16 and 17.

To prevent this crime and make perpetrators accountable, Bangladesh has adopted legal frameworks and policy measures from time to time. The Digital Security Act (DSA), 2018, for instance, has been enacted with an overarching goal to address through identification and prevention of the crime committed by using digital technology.

The Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse (Global Partnership) was first announced at the first U.S. Summit for Democracy in December 2021 by the United States and Denmark. At the 66th session for the Commission on the Status of Women, the Global Partnership was officially launched by the initial set of member countries in the Global Partnership. The Global Partnership is an Action Coalition under Tech for Democracy, which works to address gender-based online harassment and abuse in the long term with an initial mission to deliver concrete results by the end of 2022.

In the nineteenth century serfdom was abolished in many countries, but the emergence and development of the Industrial Revolution led to a rapid expansion in the numbers of exploited workers, including young children, in urban centers, primarily in Europe and North America. The average factory work week in Europe in the mid-nineteenth century was eight-four hours. Poverty, starvation, epidemics, and crime were rampant. The obvious social injustices provoked reform movements within countries and eventually on the international level. Workers fought to create the first trade unions and to take action against abuses.

The mandate of the International Labour Organization (ILO) was echoed in the Covenant of the League of Nations in which all members pledged themselves "to secure and maintain fair and humane conditions of labor for men, women and children, both in their own countries and in all countries to which their commercial and industrial relations extend." They agreed to support enforcement of agreements to combat traffic in women and children, as well as drugs, and to take steps to prevent and control disease.

By 1933 the ILO had adopted forty conventions, covering hours of work, maternity leave, unemployment, conditions of labor at night for women and children, equality of pay, minimum age at sea, forced labor, and freedom of association.

The writer is legal economist and Non-Government Adviser, Bangladesh Competition Commission. He can be contacted at [email protected]